The day my wife Becki went into labor with our daughter Evie in October 2011, I listened to The Jayhawks’ joyous song “Smile” no less than 20 times, hoping my mind might forever associate it with my baby’s birthday. Years down the line, I can listen to it and again find myself standing on fatherhood’s stoop—eager and ecstatic at parenthood’s prospects.
I knew this would work—and it has, by the way—because, in fifth grade, I filled both sides of a 90-minute cassette with The Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” so I could listen to it ceaselessly. I think of fifth grade whenever I hear that song.
That being said, when I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder seven years before Evie’s birth, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. I mean, I dubbed “Kokomo” onto a cassette 26 times for fun.
When Evie entered the world, a new obsession followed: Would I have what it takes to disciple my daughter? Would I be able to answer her questions as well as my father, a Baptist minister, had answered mine? Would I be able to help her deal with her doubts without disturbing the house of cards that is sometimes the sum total of a person’s beliefs?
I say this because my own faith is something of a fragile but functional thing, not unlike a cassette single of “Jesus Loves Me” that’s been eaten by one too many starving stereos. Somehow, despite being unspooled by skepticism and tangled in impossible knots on countless occasions, it still plays. Every time I wind that cassette’s magnetic entrails back into its body, I think it’s over. But then I press play and hear “Jesus Loves Me,” all warped and waterlogged, under the tape hiss. Somehow my hope in Jesus sounds louder than all my doubts.
When Evie entered the world, a new obsession followed: Would I have what it takes to disciple my daughter?
While I’m relieved that I still believe, I sometimes look at my cassette-tape faith and wonder if Evie will ever see how something so dilapidated could be worth something to her father—or even more, that it could be worth something to her, too.
At the height of my anxieties about my daughter’s spiritual future, it occurred to me that because children imitate their parents—at times even mimicking their motions of faith—her heart was doomed to harbor a carbon copy of my own fragile but functional faith. Her beliefs would be even more delicate than mine, however—a copy of a cassette is always a diminished version of the original.
These are the thoughts that began making the rounds in my mind after Evie became a fixture in my life. I eventually began asking fellow believers—mostly parents who had at least two children, if I recall correctly—for wisdom regarding discipleship and child rearing.
“It’s not just you and Becki that’ll be teaching Evie about God,” one friend reminded me. “Her church family will do that, too.”
“You know it’s okay if you don’t have answers for all of Evie’s questions, Chad,” a minister friend of mine said. “It’s okay to say ‘I don’t know.’”
“I’m pretty sure God will probably play a part in discipling Evie, too,” another friend said, cracking wise. “There are just some things that only He can do, you know.”
Suddenly all my insular, cassette-tape faith mumbo jumbo seemed pretty irrelevant—kind of like cassettes seem to most people in the era of digital music. These pearls of wisdom my friends proffered proved immensely helpful.
But it was only a few months ago—shortly after Evie’s second birthday, in a parenting class offered by my church—that I realized how practical discipleship could be. When our associate pastor began to discuss how parents might practice their faith at home, a classmate mentioned that she and her two daughters sang “Jesus Loves Me” and prayed together before bedtime.
That sounds surprisingly easy, I thought. Why haven’t we done that with Evie?
Becki and I sang “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” with Evie every night, but we had yet to teach her any songs about God. I suppose the years had complicated my faith enough that songs like “Jesus Loves Me” somehow seemed too simple, theologically speaking—and yet I believed God’s love was simple enough for children to comprehend it.
Before putting Evie to bed the next time, we taught her “Jesus Loves Me” and prayed with her, and did so again the following day, and the day after that. Within weeks, she knew the song by heart, and began demanding that we pray at dinner and before bedtime. She reveled in the repetition, saying, “Pray, Dada! Pray!”
This nightly ritual of singing and praying reminded me of Deuteronomy 6:6-7 (ESV) : “And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” As it turns out, God appears to revel in meaningful repetition, too.
While I still beam every time I hear the Jayhawks’ “Smile,” my grin grows even bigger when my little girl sings “Jesus Loves Me.” If I recorded her every time she sang it, I would have enough audio to fill multiple cassettes. And listening again and again, I’d savor every single word.